The two men touting 'Mr. Payback'

By George Mannes
March 10, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Jump for joysticks! To learn more about interactive movies, we had our choice of Bobs to interview: Interfilm cofounder Bob Bejan or Mr. Payback writer-director Bob Gale. We picked both. Here’s how things went.

* You could call Mr. Payback a movie, but you’d be wrong. ”We’re not a movie. We’re not even close,” says Bejan. ”We are in every way a hybrid form of entertainment that exists somewhere between movies and games.”

* Giving audiences the ability to direct the story line doesn’t mean their choices will be unpredictable. People always pick the sexual harassment case first, says Gale. ”Pretty girl. She said the word sex. Yessss!”

* There’s a reason for all those imbecilic put-downs and fart jokes. ”We’re not that interested in whether you dig it or not if you’re over 30,” says the 34-year-old Bejan, referring to the film’s interactivity. ”The people that we’re talking to — who, if we’re right, we’re going to grow up with for the rest of our careers — are people who are under 25.”

* Want to see all the different variations of Mr. Payback? Bring a change of clothes. In the course of the film, audiences make 14 to 16 decisions about the plot. Interfilm programmers estimate that Mr. Payback comprises 27,648 possible combinations of 240 different segments from two hours’ worth of footage. That adds up to more than 1 1/2 years of 16-hour viewing days.

* No one’s getting a big payback just yet. ”Everybody took a lot less money than they normally do,” says Gale. ”And I called in some favors from friends of mine. Thank goodness that the Back to the Future movies were so successful that I could put my salary on hiatus for a while.”

* Contrary to the buzz, Hollywood isn’t that interactive-friendly. Before making Mr. Payback, Gale pitched an interactive TV show — to no avail. ”[TV executives] either didn’t get it, or if they thought they got it, they said, ‘Well, that could never work.”’ As he was casting Mr. Payback, he claims, ”certain actors would say, ‘Interactive? Not interested.”’